Maybe it’s where we are situated in the Mountain time zone, but it seemed like the sunrise came early. Officially, it was close to 5:30 AM. Between the sun coming through the window, and the train whistles blowing at 6 AM, I was up early.
The continental breakfast was not going to be available until 8:30. I didn’t want to wait that long, so I walked a block to the Safeway to get some bananas to go with my PBJ sandwich and coffee. Unfortunately, it didn’t open until 7 AM, so I walked a couple of blocks to a Cal Jr’s for a breakfast sandwich. By the time I left the fast food place, the Safeway was open and I had the bananas. Mike loaded my packed panniers in his car. With the minor delays, I was on the bike at 8:30.
It was a cool, overcast morning. With the weather and route review from the night before, it was going to be pretty devoid of any commercial enterprises between my start in Walsenberg and the finish in La Junta. It appeared to be pretty flat for the first 15 miles, then drop almost 2000 feet in elevation over the next 45 miles. The total ride was targeted at about 74 miles, depending on what hotel we got in La Junta. That is, the cheap one or the cheaper one.
As Mike predicted, I was seeing the last of the mountains. As I passed the railroad tracks heading out of town, there were a few commercial trucks following me. Within 2 miles I was not seeing any human life, just a few horses and cows. They’re was a possibility of rain, but the associated wind was at my back. Mike was still carrying my panniers so Hidalgo was set for speed. For the next 2 hours, I rode as fast as I did in AZ when I had a 30 mph tailwind. The wind today was probably closer to 10 or 15 mph, but one I got to that drop in elevation, I went from averaging 17 mph to 20 mph to sustaining 30 mph for miles at a time. Over the next 2 hours I averaged 21 mph for the first 48 miles.
Something about the terrain brought up images of cavalry soldiers charging over the rolling hills. The mental jukebox was playing “Gary Owen” – the song General Custer had adopted for his 7th Cavalry. The song had been burned into my memory from watching a movie program on WGN television as a kid growing up in Chicago, called Family Classics. They’d promote that week’s movie heavily. I could still hear the music from the 1941 Warner Bros. adaptation called “They Died With Their Boots On” featuring Error Flynn, directed by Raoul Walsh. Hidalgo and I were charging through the hills, cooled by the clouds, pushed by the wind, and pulled by the melody of Gary Owen and gravity.
At 37 miles I texted Mike that I was already halfway to La Junta. I was getting low on water. There had not been any commercial enterprise for 37 miles. There had not been any homes in view once I was 5 miles out of Walsenberg. Mike caught up with me at 48 miles into the ride. We ate some sandwiches, replenished my water and got back on the bike.
The wind direction had shifted. Suddenly, I had a headwind. The road had gotten kind of rough, but at 20 mph, it didn’t bother me. Now, climbing a slight hill against the wind, the road seemed rougher than before. That made for an uncomfortable ride with more rolling resistance. Things didn’t get much better until mile 60, near the “town” of Hawley. Hawley was the intersection of CO 10 and a couple of county roads with a few houses and a private school. The road got a little smoother and the wind became friendlier.
By 1:45 we were at an Econo Lodge and I was ready for a shower. After giving us a couple of discounts, the attendant dropped the news that the hot water heater had blown and we would be without hot water in our room. He could give us access to a room that still had hot water, but it was not available for rent. I chose to just suck it up and wash with cold water. It’s just part of the adventure.
We ate at a small diner off the town square and then went to the local movie house to see Captain America. Just another exciting night in a small town. Even as we get ready for bed, I can still hear train whistles blowing. But I won’t see any more mountains!
The Lone Rider